The Honourable Senator Peter Harder, Government Representative in the Senate
June 9, 2016
Russia—Dumping of Toxic Chemicals—Arctic Sovereignty
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, my question is to the Government Representative in the Senate.
Last week I expressed my concerns and those of my constituents in Nunavut about a Russian rocket launch last Saturday which was expected to result in debris, including toxic hydrazine fuel from a rocket stage from the launch, falling into Canadian waters. I did appreciate the Government Representative’s assurance that the Government Operations Centre would carefully monitor this launch.
Earlier this week we heard from Ms. Mylène Croteau, a spokesperson for Public Safety Canada, who told Nunatsiaq News that the government operations centre had been monitoring the rocket launch and that “Nothing has landed in our territory.”
My question is this: First, where did the rocket launch debris fall if not in what was described as our territory, please?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for his question and for his ongoing interest in this important question.
I would like to report, as the honourable senator’s question confirmed, that the rocket was launched on June 4. As his question last week indicated, there was concern with respect to the potential for the rocket to land in Canadian soil.
I am left to understand from authorities that Public Safety Canada, the Department of National Defence, Global Affairs Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment and Climate Change Canada monitored the launch and reentry. Transport Canada issued a noticed to airmen to restrict air traffic for the time surrounding the launch. The precise entry point has not yet been made available, but current information expects that the physical debris landed in open water and sank.
The environmental concerns that the honourable senator raised with respect to hydrazine are taken seriously, but at this point there appears to be no evidence of that. Experts in Canada’s Department of National Defence have assessed that there is a high likelihood that the hydrazine fuel used to boost this rocket phase would be either completely expended prior to separation or burned up in the atmosphere upon reentry, and therefore minimal environmental damage or risk is believed to have taken place. However, we are not yet able to confirm that. Authorities are continuing to monitor.
I should also indicate to the house that, as I indicated last week, this has been an area of active conversation and, indeed, deliberate engagement with the Russians to express our concerns and our frustration with the lack of clarification at various times.
We’ve used the occasion since the launch to remind the Russians of advance warning being required, and we’ve also urged the Russian government to make every effort in future both to give us advance warning and to ensure that nothing falls within our exclusive economic zone.
Senator Patterson: Well, I’m pleased that so many federal departments were involved in monitoring this situation, which has caused great concern in Nunavut, particularly to the residents of the area where the second stage was slated to land somewhere between southern Ellesmere Island and Greenland.
I would like to reiterate that although the debris was not planned to fall within Canadian territorial waters, it was projected to possibly fall on Canada’s exclusive economic zone. Canada enforces its jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone through the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act and has a remedy for the dumping of pollutants, including from the air, in those waters even though they’re outside so-called “territorial waters.”
I would ask the Government Representative in the Senate this: Since it seems that we are not really sure yet where the debris fell, would Canada keep the people of Nunavut informed about what more is learned and also about what remedies might be pursued to prevent this kind of thing from happening in future?
Senator Harder: I would be pleased to ensure that the appropriate information is provided to the people of Nunavut and elsewhere.
With respect to the future, the kind of cooperation we are asking of the Russians cannot necessarily be guaranteed, so we’ll have to continue to be vigilant.
(Response to question raised by the Honourable Dennis Glen Patterson on June 9, 2016)
The Government of Canada is committed to keeping provinces and territories, including Nunavut, informed of potential hazards to the safety of their people and the environment. The Government closely monitors the trajectory and re-entry of rocket launches and space debris through the Canadian Space Operations Centre (via NORAD), the Government Operations Centre, NAV Canada and Transport Canada.
When made aware of the planned launch, the Government of Canada demarched the Russian ambassador and asked Russia why Canada did not receive more notice. In doing so, Canada stressed to the Government of Russia the importance of taking necessary precautions to protect the environment, as well as the need for greater advance notice of planned launches to ensure that all potential risks, particularly those relating to environmental impacts in the Arctic, can be appropriately addressed. Canada has also informed the Russian government that we expect them to make every effort to ensure that debris does not land within Canadian territory.
With the prevalence of satellite launches and cooperation in space, it is not uncommon for there to be space debris. This issue is governed by a number of international treaties, which require member states to refrain from intentionally causing damage to other countries when conducting outer space activities. Canada expects Russia to fully comply with its obligations in this regard.
In the hypothetical scenario of space debris landing within Canadian territory, the Government of Canada would engage with the appropriate Province or Territory to explore options for recovery.